Anatomy of an End Table and Drawer

Learn How Tables and Dovetail Drawers Fit Together, so you can Build Your Own Furniture with Drawers

Joshua Farnsworth Portrait  By Joshua Farnsworth  | Updated Mar 11, 2022

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Introduction: Anatomy of a DIY End Table and Drawer

Quartersawn White Oak Diy End Table Night Stand With Half Blind Dovetail Drawers

Are you planning on building a DIY end table or do you want to make a table of any other type? Then this article and video will uncover the mystery behind how tables fit together, especially tables with drawers or any other furniture with drawers!

Joshua Farnsworth Showing How To Make A Table Or A Diy End Table

Tables with drawers are really enjoyable to build, but how everything fits together can be confusing for beginner woodworkers. So I’m going to show you how my quartersawn white oak nightstands fit together. And in case you like my table design, here are the plans that I designed, in case you want to buy them for only $4.99.

Woodworking Diy End Table Plans For A Shaker End Table

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I did some research and discovered a major lack of written specifics on the anatomy of tables, especially how the inside drawer-holding parts fit together. I flipped through new and old books, and checked a bunch of DVDs, and virtually all of them just skip over the details.

Parts Of A Diy End Table Interior Drawer

So a new woodworker would have to search extremely hard, or inspect well-built antique furniture to uncover the mystery. You certainly won’t find it by looking at most modern furniture. I just think most beginners would have trouble trying to figure it all out on their own. So I’m going to walk you through how a simple table and drawer fits together over the process of a build. This information will be invaluable when you make a table.

How To Make A Table And Build Dovetail Drawers With A Dovetail Saw For A Diy End Table

In case you’re curious, this particular set of end tables is made out of the lovely quartersawn white oak lumber that I milled up with my friend Todd Horne from a fallen tree, as featured in this video. Before I talk about how all the joinery and parts fit together, lets first look at the names of all the parts of this DIY end table with a drawer.

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Parts of a DIY End Table

How To Make A Table And Build Dovetail Drawers For A Diy End Table With Mortise And Tenon Joints

The below photo diagrams show the different parts of a DIY end table with drawers. For more details, certainly watch the video at the top of this article. I’ve divided the table anatomy into (A) visible exterior parts, (B) hidden interior parts, and (C) drawer parts:

A. Visible exterior parts of an end table with a drawer

Parts Of A Table Diagram On How To Make A Table

“Table Top”: The table top is the horizontal flat part that protects the interior contents of the table, and offers a surface for setting items on. These particular table tops were made by gluing up several smaller pieces of quartersawn white oak because I wanted less seasonal moisture movement, but mostly because I wanted wood figure on the entire top. It’s really hard to find figured wood that’s 18″ wide.

“Apron”: The aprons (sometimes called “skirts”) are the sides and back that enclose three sides of the table. The aprons have tenons that fit into mortises cut into the legs. The rear tenons are beveled with a 45 degree angle to allow the side and rear tenons to meet in the rear legs without getting in the way of the other.

“Tapered Leg”: Table Legs are thin vertical pieces that hold the table up. Legs can be tapered (as pictured above), straight, turned on a lathe (with circular elements), carved, or a mixture of any of these. I prefer the delicate and simple appearance of tapered table legs, which is representative of the Shaker style of furniture. But you may like straight legs from Arts & Crafts furniture or more fancy turned or carved legs from classical furniture styles.

“Drawer Pull”: A drawer pull is a handle or knob that is attached to a drawer front to enable the opening of the drawer. Drawer pulls can be attached with screws or, in the case above, a wedged tenon.

“Drawer Rails”: Drawer rails connect the two front legs, and create a frame for insertion of the drawer.

How To Make A Table Diagram Of Table Parts Showing A Double Mortise And Tenon Joint

The lower drawer rail has a double tenon that fits into two small mortises in the front legs, and the upper drawer rail has dovetailed ends that are lapped into the tops of the front legs.

Parts Of A Table Diagram Showing A Lapped Dovetail Joint On An Upper Drawer Rail

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B. Hidden Interior parts of an end table

How To Make A Table Tutorial Inside Parts Of A Table Diagram

“Spacers”: Spacers (or “doublers”) fill in the space between the table legs and apron to offer a lateral limit to the drawer, to prevent the drawer from moving side to side.

Dovetail Drawer Spacers Or Doublers To Build A Table

Historically these spacers were made from a secondary wood, like Tulip Poplar or some species of Pine. The spacers in the above photo are made from poplar. They are glued to the side rails. Glue is sufficiently strong to hold the spacers in place.

“Drawer Runners”: Drawer runners give the drawers a surface to slide on, and prevent the drawer from dropping out of the bottom opening of the table.

Dovetail Drawer Runners To Build A Table

Drawer runners are simply glued onto the drawer spacers. The runners are level with the lower drawer rails.

“Kickers”: Drawer kickers are like runners, as they restrain the movement of the drawer.

Dovetail Drawer Kickers To Build A Table

But they sit level with the upper drawer rail and help keep the drawer pushed snugly against the drawer runner.

“Drawer Rails”: As mentioned above, drawer rails connect the two front legs, and create a frame for insertion of the drawer.

Dovetail Drawer Rails To Build A Table

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C. Parts of a Drawer

Make A Table Parts Of A Dovetail Drawer Diagram

“Drawer Front”: The drawer front is the only visible part of a closed drawer (aside from the pull) and is made from primary wood (like quartersawn white oak, in this case). Drawer fronts usually feature the most visually pleasing wood on the table, as it is the most visible of all table parts. A groove is plowed into the inner side of the drawer front to accept the drawer bottom.

Make A Dovetail Drawer To Make A Table

“Drawer Sides”: The left and right drawer sides are connected to the drawer front with half-blind dovetails. Drawer sides are usually made from a secondary wood, like Tulip Poplar or some species of Pine. This saves the furniture maker money, and lightens the drawer. The drawer sides also have grooves plowed into the inner sides to accept the drawer bottom.

Make A Dovetail Drawer To Make A Table Half Blind Dovetails

“Drawer Back”: Like the drawer sides, the drawer back is also made of a secondary wood, and is connected to the drawer sides via through-dovetail joints. The drawer bottom is shorter than the drawer sides and front, to allow the drawer bottom to escape underneath it when seasonal changes in humidity cause expansion and contraction of the drawer bottom.

Make A Dovetail Drawer To Make A Table

“Drawer Pull”: A drawer pull is a handle or knob that is attached to a drawer front to enable the opening of the drawer. Drawer pulls can be attached with screws or, in the case above, a wedged tenon. I made these pulls with chisels, rasps, and sandpaper.

Dovetail Drawer With A Drawer Pull And Quarter Sawn White Oak

“Drawer Bottom”: The drawer bottom holds all the contents of the drawer, and prevents them from falling out. Drawer bottoms can be made of plywood (because it doesn’t expand and contract much), but a superior custom drawer is made out of solid wood, like poplar or pine (secondary woods).

Drawer Bottom Of A Dovetail Drawer To Make A Diy End Table

Solid drawer bottoms allow a thicker bottom, with edges that are beveled with a handplane to fit into the grooves in the sides and front. Antique drawers usually have the handplane marks on the bottom. I used a bandsaw to resaw a poplar board for my bottom, milled up the two halves, and glued them together to form a solid bottom.

Drawer Bottom Of A Dovetail Drawer To Make A Diy End Table

As mentioned above, the drawer is built to manage the seasonal movement of the drawer bottom. Wood doesn’t expand and contract lengthwise, but it does expand & contract widthwise. So furniture makers arrange the drawer bottom in a way to allow the expansion to occur out the back of the drawer.

Diagram Showing Parts Of A Table Drawer Bottom

As the above photos show, the drawer bottom sits in the grooves that were plowed into the drawer sides and drawer front, and then sits on the drawer back. The drawer bottom is screwed into the drawer back with one or two screws (only one screw for a small drawer like this). The pilot hole in the drawer bottom is drilled wider than the screw to prevent the drawer from splitting with seasonal movement. It’s like wearing stretchy pants during the holiday season.

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How an End Table & Drawer are Assembled

Two Night Stand End Tables In A Plastic Ammonia Fuming Tent

Now I’ll talk about how all the parts fit together when you make a table, including (a) Constructing the Table Frame (visible exterior parts), (b) Constructing the Spacers & Runners (Hidden Interior parts), (c) Drawer Construction and Drawer Fitting, and (d) How to Attach a Table Top. I’ll also include a section on finishing the tables. 

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A. Constructing the Table Frame (visible exterior parts)

Assembling A Diy End Table With Mortise And Tenon Legs

This DIY end table fits together with tenons on the aprons, inserted into mortises that are cut into the four legs. The rear tenons are beveled to allow them to clear each other inside the mortise. The rear legs, of course, each have a mortise on each side to accept the aprons.

Joshua Farnsworth Showing How To Make A Table Assembling The Legs Mortise And Tenon Joint

The front two legs are different. Like the rear legs, they have mortises that accept the apron tenons, but on the interior faces are mortises that are cut to provide an opening for the drawer.

Joshua Farnsworth Showing How To Make A Table Assembling The Legs Mortise And Tenon Joint

These mortises hold the drawer rails. The lower drawer rail uses a double tenon and double mortise to prevent the rail from twisting over time:

Lower Drawer Rail Being Inserted Into A Table Leg With A Double Mortise And Tenon Joint

The upper drawer rail uses a dovetail lapped into the top of the leg (pictured below). The dovetailed rail sits proud of the top of the leg so it can be hand planed down later when fitting the table top. Don’t worry if your rail dovetails look ugly. They’ll be covered with the table top later.

Lapped Dovetail Joint Drawer Rail Inserted Into A Table Leg

For aesthetic purposes I set my drawer rails back about 1/16 of an inch from the front of the table legs to create a “reveal”, as pictured above and below:

Drawer Rails Attached To A Table Leg With Lap Dovetail Joint And Double Mortise And Tenon Joint

The reveal adds visual interest to the rails and the tapered leg. The tapers on the table legs usually start a few inches down from the drawer rails:

Tapered Table Leg For Building A Diy End Table

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B. Constructing the Spacers, Runners, & Kickers (Hidden Interior parts)

Dovetail Drawer Rails, Spacers, Runners, And Kickers Used To Build A Diy End Table

After the table frame is glued up, it’s time to make custom spacers, runners, and kickers. These parts are made out of a secondary wood, like Poplar or pine, and can be permanently attached to the table frame with wood glue. The glue is certainly strong enough to keep them attached, without using nails or screws. I like to use this liquid hide glue for this step.

Dovetail Drawer Runners, Kickers, And Spacers Or Doublers To Build A Table

I first glue on the top and bottom spacers (or doublers). I use plenty of wood clamps to ensure that the spacers will stay snugly against the table aprons:

Using Wood Clamps To Glue Drawer Spacers To Build A Table

The spacers are made to be flush with the four legs (pictured above). Leave the clamps on for a couple of hours.

Next, the drawer runners and kickers are glued to the spacers. The drawer runners give a platform for the drawer to run along, and the kickers are added up top to keep the drawer tight against the runners.

Dovetail Drawer Kickers To Build A Table

So essentially the drawer rails, drawer runners, drawer kickers, and drawer spacers create the boundaries to ensure your drawer will fit nice and snug. The more precise you are with building these interior parts, the better your drawer will fit in the table.

Parts Of A Table Interior Drawer Runners, Kickers, And Spacers

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C. How to Attach a Table Top

There are a variety of methods for attaching table tops, which I’ll mention here:

Wooden Buttons

One traditional method to attach table tops is making wooden buttons. To do this you cut shallow mortises into the rear apron, side kickers, and front rail, and make wooden “buttons” that hold the table top tight, while allowing seasonal wood movement.

Attaching A Table Top With Buttons

The button mortises should be cut before gluing up the table. I chisel out the button mortises with a ¼” chisel. Buttons are made out of scrap wood, and historical slotted screws are driven into pre-drilled pilot holes.

Table Aprons Inserted Into A Table Leg. Also Table Top Button Mortises.

Metal Button Fasteners

You can also buy inexpensive metal versions of the button style of fastener (see below). This is much easier than making your own wooden buttons.

Table Top Fasteners On A Diy Table

You can find this style of table top fastener here for not very much money. Table top buttons do, however, take a long time to install, because you either have to chop mortises or cut them with a plunge router.

Figure 8 Table Top Fasteners

Even more than table top buttons, I’m particularly fond of the figure eight table top fasteners. They are also called Desk Top Fasteners. These are my favorite style of table top fasteners, and in my opinion, the easiest to install:

Table Top Fasteners Figure 8

With this style of table top fastener you just bore shallow half circles into the top of your table aprons (same depth as the thickness of the fastener) and screw the other side into the table top. I clamp a sacrificial board to the inside of each apron so I can bore these holes.

Table Top Fasteners Figure 8

You can find the lowest prices on good figure 8 table top fasteners here. 

Pocket Screw Holes

Another method for attaching a table top is using pocket holes. I don’t mean using a Kreg jig (unless you want to). I mean using a carving gouge and a wood screw. You can see this method here:

Attach A Table Top With A Pocket Hole Screw

This is a very historical method for attaching table tops.

This is currently the most economical place to purchase table top fasteners. All of these table top fasteners allow for seasonal wood movement, if installed correctly.

I prefer to use an undercut bevel for the tops of my end tables, to give it the aesthetics of a thinner top, but the strength of thicker top. And the slope gives it a nice look. I use a hand plane to make these undercut bevels. Beveling with a handplane is faster than making undercut bevel table saw jigs. But if you plan on making a lot of these tables, using the table saw is the way to go. An undercut beveled top is one sign of quality in an end table like this.

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D. Drawer Construction and Drawer Fitting

Make A Dovetail Drawer To Make A Table

When building a drawer for a table I make sure that I build the drawer a tad wider than the drawer opening in the table. Why? Because I want the drawer to fit perfectly snug, and I want to make a custom fit. If you build the drawer box to the exact dimensions of your opening, then there’s a good chance that the drawer will be too lose in the opening. I try to make the drawer about 1/16th of an inch wider than the opening. If you build the drawer any wider, then you’ll be doing a whole lot of handplaning in the drawer fitting stage.

Assembling the Dovetail Drawer Box

Now it’s time to assemble the drawer parts. The sides of the drawers are attached to the drawer front using half-blind dovetail joints, and the sides are attached to the back using through-dovetail joints.

Assembling A Half Blind Dovetail Joint On A Drawer To Make A Table

I first attach one drawer side to the drawer front, with the half-blind dovetail joint (pictured above. I then attach the drawer back to that first drawer side.

Assembling A Half Blind Dovetail Joint On A Drawer To Make A Table

I finish assembling the drawer frame by attaching the second side to the drawer front and drawer back:

Assembling A Dovetail Drawer To Make A Table

Next I glue up the dovetail drawer box, taking extra care to ensure that the drawer box is square before the glue dries. But I don’t add the drawer bottom yet, since I’ll be sliding in a solid drawer bottom after I ammonia fume and finish the drawer front and drawer box.

Fitting the drawer to the table

Make A Table Diy End Table

After the glue on the drawer box is dried (I wait overnight, just to be careful), I fit the drawer box to the opening of the table.

Using A Smoothing Plane To Fit A Drawer To Make A Table

As I mentioned earlier, I make the drawer box about 1/16-inch wider than the opening, so I can custom fit the drawer with a hand plane. The drawer shouldn’t fit in the opening at first. I use a smoothing plane (see my handplane guide here) to take fine shavings from both sides of the drawer box until the drawer box slides in perfectly.

How To Fit A Dovetail Drawer When You Make A Table

The drawer fitting process also includes handplaning a tad off the top and bottom of the drawer front, to create a very slight space above and below the drawer front, called a “reveal”. The top and bottom reveal prevents the drawer from hanging up, and also helps aesthetically balance the reveal that was created when handplaning the drawer sides.

How To Fit A Dovetail Drawer When You Make A Table

To me, a perfect fit means that the drawer requires a little pressure to get the drawer box to go inside the table, but not so much that it requires too much effort. And a loose drawer would be wobbling around. Watch my video at the top of this page to see how my drawer slides in.

How To Fit A Dovetail Drawer When You Make A Table

I know this was just a quick explanation on fitting a drawer, but the topic of fitting a drawer could require a whole article on it’s own, depending on how deep you want to delve. You can either just go ahead and experiment with what I just mentioned, or if you want a really good lesson on drawer fitting, here is a great DVD on making fine custom-fit drawers:

Building A Classic Drawer With Alan Turner Dvd

Finishing the drawer box

After my drawers are glued up and snugly fit to the table, I use a block plane to bevel the tops of the drawer sides to prevent dings from showing up. You can also see how nice the half-blind dovetails look after the drawer sides have been hand planed for fitting.

How To Fit A Dovetail Drawer When You Make A Table

The marking gauge line remains visible, which is historically accurate, so don’t try to sand them out! I also finish the secondary wood parts of the drawer (sides, back, and bottom) with a few coats of thinned down dewaxed shellac (scuffing between coats with steel wool). And later, after finishing the drawer front and table, I add a beeswax wood finish / beeswax polish for a little extra protection and sheen.

Applying Ye Olde Beeswax Wood Finish To A Drawer

The shellac and beeswax wood finish gives the drawer box a slight amount of moister protection. Thinned shellac only takes a few minutes to dry, and applying a wax only take s a minute or two, so this process is very quick.

You can buy my “Ye Olde Beeswax Wood Finish For Furniture” here. 

Applying Ye Olde Beeswax Wood Finish To A Drawer

You don’t have to do any finishing on the interior drawer parts if you don’t want to. I just find that it makes the drawer interior look nicer for a longer period of time. And it offers protection from dirt and grime, and also moisture (when I wipe clean the drawer with a damp cloth).

I did an ammonia fuming on these tables and drawers, so the Shellac prevented the drawer box from any darkening.

Unfinished Quartersawn White Oak Diy End Table Night Stand With Half Blind Dovetail Drawers

Drawer stops are added to stop the drawer from going too far into the table. They stop the drawer front even with the drawer rails. I simply glue little blocks on the lower front drawer rail.

Quarter Sawn White Oak Table With Drawer Stops

On these particular night stands I used a historical finishing method called “fuming” with ammonium hydroxide, or Ammonia as it’s known to most people. In a confined space, the ammonia will react with the tannin in the white oak, darkening it. You can check out my article and video tutorial on fuming these tables here.

Two Night Stand End Tables In A Plastic Ammonia Fuming Tent

After a couple days of fuming in my plastic tent, the end tables look dark and lovely. But not as lovely as when adding a finish. The grain just pops when adding a finish like this. A recipe and instructions for this great penetrating, yet protective, wipe on finish can also be found below.

Quartersawn White Oak End Table Night Stand With Half Blind Dovetail Drawers

I then add a drawer bottom. As mentioned earlier, the drawer bottom’s grain runs side to side, which means the wood will move front to back. This is why the drawer back is kept out of the way.

Attaching A Drawer Bottom Into A Drawer Frame On A Nightstand Table With A Screw And Screwdriver

The drawer bottom is beveled with a hand plane, slid into the drawer bow, and then attached to the drawer bottom with a screw. The screw hole in the drawer bottom is slightly larger than the screw, so that seasonal wood movement won’t destroy the drawer. I make the hole oval shaped. I like to use historical-style slotted screws for this purpose. You can check out my video blog post on making affordable historical slotted screws here.

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Bonus: Wiping Varnish Finish Recipe for Tables

Applying A Wiping Varnish Finish To A White Oak Night Stand

This is an easy, lovely, and protective wood finish recipe that is based on a recipe that my friend Will Myers shared with me. I like it because it brings out the figure and gives depth with some oil, but offers protection that a table needs, without getting a plastic look.

  • Mix Natural Danish Oil and Satin Polyurethane in a 50/50 mixture. I like to use a small jam-sized canning jar (8 oz – 12 oz. size).
  • Use a lint-free cloth, or old t-shirt scraps to wipe on a first coat. Wait 10-15 minutes, and then wipe off the excess with a clean cloth. Let the first coat dry for three days.
  • Lightly sand or scuff between coats with 0000 steel wool, an ultra fine Scotch-Brite pad, or very fine sandpaper. This finish really doesn’t build enough film to need wet sanding, so just lightly dry scuff between coats.
  • Repeat the above steps two more times.
  • After the last (third) coat has dried for three days, lightly scuff the surface again, and buff with a nice furniture wax and a cotton cloth (an old T-shirt). You can buy my “Ye Olde Beeswax Wood Finish For Furniture” here. Waiting a week before applying a wax finish is even better so that the oil finish gets a nice long time to harden. Don’t leave the wax on longer than 10 minutes before buffing it with a soft cotton cloth.
  • Tip: This finish will thicken up in the jar and be unusable after a few weeks, so if you have leftovers, I spray a bit of Bloxygen to preserve it and then close the lid. I also spray this into my danish oil can and polyurethane can (and all my varnishes). Bloxygen is argon gas that displaces the oxygen, which preserves your wood finishes. It has saved me a lot of money in wasted wood finish. It’s especially good to spray in Waterlox, which tends to coagulate more quickly than other finishes I’ve used.

Conclusion

And here are the finished end tables! Hopefully this has educated you on the anatomy and process of making tables with drawers.

Two Quartersawn White Oak Night Stands Sitting On A Roubo Workbench Slab

The construction process gets a bit more complex when introducing more than one drawer, but that will be a lot easier for you to understand now. I get educated more and more each time I build something, so now go and build a table of your own!

(This article was originally published Dec 01, 2017)